''Explorer's Africa'' Voyage 7107 Day 5


Day 5 - March 29, 2011 - Walvis Bay, Namibia

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 22 56 4 S, 014 29 0E
Weather: Warm and sunny with light onshore breeze.
Air Temperature: 25 C
Sea Temperature: 19 C

As we are heading north, the sunrise is much faster so that we now seem to go from fully dark to a nice sunny morning in no time at all. That was certainly the case this morning as the dawn broke as we had breakfast.

Just after 7am the Expedition Team were all ashore and ready to go as the first guests came down the gangway towards the first coach that was to take us to the small marina where our catamarans awaited us. Due to some snags with one permit, we had to use the bus to shuttle ourselves to the main gates, but it was not long before we were all on the four boats and heading out into Walvis Bay.

The boat I was on was named Silverwind but was somewhat different to the Silversea vessel of a similar name. Although it must be said this was very comfortable as well. Our wildlife guide, Marco, gave us an introduction to the trip around the bay and gave us an idea of what we would be doing and where we would be going. The Expedition Team was scattered across the other three boats and were getting a similar introduction from their guides.

We had only been going a few hundred metres when Marco gave a shrill whistle. This we later learned was his call to a wide variety of wildlife. The first to show up were some Kelp Gulls with their familiar yelping cries soon to be heard above us. Two African White Pelicans came to have a look and to take advantage of the free fish. All the birds came up on the windward side of the boat and came very close even when they were not taking fish from his fingertips. I could see Marco scanning the water’s surface and the reason why soon became apparent when a Cape Fur Seal came up towards us and proceeded to climb the back step onto the boat.

This was the first of several that came aboard during our trip, always one at a time, as some of the older ones would not tolerate a younger one on board. Marco and the rest of the crew knew them all by name and had a good idea of their temperament. One in particular did not take kindly to being ignored when in the water beside the boat and would make a big splash with its flippers if Marco turned his back. Once aboard, they would all make their way to the front of the boat to be fed. Those of us that wanted to have a go at feeding the seal were able to do so once we had been shown how. We could see that they all preferred to eat their fish head first, as if they were given it tail first they would turn the fish around in one quick flick of the neck.

One of the surprises to me was that one or two of the Cape Cormorants would also come in to be fed. For a species that usually keeps a good distance between us and them, it was very unusual to see one come to be fed in response to a whistle.

On the far side of the bay we stopped near the oyster farming area where Marco explained how they were grown for export here. There were many terns in this area including Swift, Common, Sandwich and a Black Tern. We continued alongside the ever-growing sandbar past the lighthouse that had once been on the tip and was now well inland. Large numbers of Cape Fur Seals were using the outer end of the point as a haul-out and breeding site. We stopped a little way offshore to spend a while watching and listening to what was going on as they were very vocal.

Once we reached the end of the point we continued out into the open sea. Some of the boats had seen an Ocean Sunfish but it had dived and was lost to view. This was soon forgotten as we found some of the endemic Heaviside Dolphins that frequent this area. One leaped high in the air beside the ship but others were content to let us only see their dorsal fins as they swam in front of us. We spent a while out in the deeper water looking at the wide variety of seabirds feeding here that included European Storm Petrel, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Cory’s’ Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and both Brown and Arctic Skuas. These plus the comings and goings of the seals kept us watching until Marco appeared with a bottle of champagne, which was opened and he invited us all to the back of the boat for a drink with local oysters, plus meat from Springbok, calamari and a fine selection of sweets.

The trip was over all too soon and after a final visit from two more Cape Fur Seals we were back at the dock. One seal would not take no for an answer and came on board as we tied up and looked a little put out that there was no more fish on offer as we left and said our goodbyes.

It was a short ride back to the port where the Prince Albert II was getting ready to set sail. Once the gangways were up, we headed back out into the bay before turning north towards our next destination: Angola.

As we cruised away we saw a few more of the Heaviside Dolphins, some Arctic and Brown Skuas, plus the wide variety of terns, and of course a lot more seals.

The afternoon was spent relaxing in the warm sunshine or catching up on notes or sleep after a busy couple of days. There was still a good variety of wildlife to be seen with shearwaters and petrels being noted quite regularly although we seemed to have left all the Cape Cormorants behind as we reached deeper water.

In late afternoon, Hans-Peter gave his lecture entitled ‘The Flora of Southern Africa – Kings and Birds of Paradise’ in which he talked about the ‘Capensis’, a floral kingdom of its own at the southern tip of African continent that contains over 9,000 species of plants all packed together in an area half the size of the UK. Hans gave us a flavor of this most amazing flora in his talk and the adaptations that they have made to survive in this unique environment.

At 1845 we gathered in The Theatre for Recap & Briefing. Robin Aiello started us off talking about the beetles that gather fog to drink in the dunes of Namibia before it was my turn, this time talking about the African White Pelicans we had seen earlier that day. Juan then gave us a lot of information about the dunes we had been seeing before Hans-Peter talked about the Welwitschia plant some of us had visited yesterday. Robin, our Expedition Leader, then finished by showing a film taken by Kristine, our photographer on the last cruise, about the rescue of the crew of the Oliva that we had been involved in when we were in the Tristan da Cunha island group. He also gave us an idea of the programme for the next few days and some tantalizing hints of what was to happen in Angola.

It was then time to finish a very interesting day with dinner in The Restaurant as we sailed across a calm sea.